1. Penguin Beach, Simons Town, Cape Province, South Africa

     

  2. Rolling Hills Presentation: Justice Week

                    Good morning and happy first Sunday of Lent!  The whole theme of lent this year at Rolling Hills is peace.  What is God’s peace?  How is it given to us?  How are we supposed to use it as Christians?  We are going to be discussing all sorts of very hard topics that I am not qualified to talk about whatsoever.  But this week’s topic is justice, which I do know a little something about…we hope.

                    Every winter, the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church sends a group of high school students along with a bishop and chaperones to a different part of the world. The trip is called the Mission of Peace.  As you all know, I traveled to South Africa for almost three weeks in January with this program, and I am here today to talk about my experience with you as it relates to justice and peace.

                    But before I can get to all that important stuff, I want to take a moment to explain exactly what a Mission of Peace is.  We are all very familiar here at Rolling Hills with Discovery Service Projects.  Many of us, including myself, have volunteered on trips before.  We know how there is usually a work site, and volunteers dedicate their time to building a school or an orphanage or a hurricane shelter or a church for the local people.  Something physical is left behind that was not there before Discovery’s presence.  This is a beautiful thing and a very gratifying thing, so it is not surprising that most mission trips are set up just like Discovery Service trips.  But a long, long time ago in the eighties, a group of youth created the Mission of Peace because they wanted to try something different.

                    To be clear, I built nothing physical while in South Africa.  I didn’t shovel any concrete, I didn’t lay any cinder blocks, and I certainly didn’t bend any rebar.   All I really did was talk to people.  But somehow in talking to people, I learned more about our society, our purpose as Christians, and our God than I have on any other experience.

                    Today’s theme is justice as it relates to peace.  Justice is fairness and equality, and peace is harmony and tranquility.  In my mind, I have always associated these two concepts.  I have always believed that we need to create justice in the world, so that people can be at peace.  That seems reasonable.  Right?  You can’t be at peace if your circumstances are unjust.  This is what I always thought.

                    South Africa is one of the richest countries on the continent, and in some areas that wealth is very evident.  One afternoon in Capetown, my group stopped at a mall food court for lunch as we were driving from the clinic we had visited that morning to the church we were visiting that evening.  As we walked back to our vans after lunch, we saw an Aston Martin dealership.  So of course, all the teenage boys and I had to go inside to ooh and aahh.  Now everything I know about cars, I learned from my brother, and he taught me enough to know that one of these Aston Martins costs about $150,000 to $200,000.  When I remembered this information while standing in that Aston Martin dealership, I froze.  I suppose the people who work there thought that I really like cars or something bc I stood there entranced in front of this car.  But I have seen expensive toys before.  I froze up because that same morning I visited a clinic where hundreds of patients waited in line for treatment from one doctor.  The ones who don’t get treated one day become the front of the line the next day.  The clinic sees on average 10,000 people a month with only one doctor and eight nurses on staff every day.  I spent the morning listening to the stories of the facility’s manager about how she wants to help more people but cannot because there just aren’t enough funds to buy medicines and equipment and pay doctors.  And here was an Aston Martin dealership ten miles away.  So I did a little math while I stood there.  With the money it takes to buy one car at that dealership, you could pay the yearly salaries for four more doctors for that clinic.  If that’s not a social justice issue, I don’t know what is.

                    So with all this injustice, I didn’t expect to encounter much peace while in South Africa.  I certainly didn’t experience much peace.  I was frustrated, almost angry even, that we were viewing so much injustice, but we were DOING nothing.  I wanted a trip like Discovery Service. I wanted to put on some old jeans and go out there and get to work!  It was uncomfortable to watch someone else’s suffering, discuss it in detail with him or her, and then walk away.  I was itching for justice and thought that until I did something, I could not be at peace.

                    One of the biggest injustices in South Africa today has to do with HIV/AIDs.  18% of the adult population in South Africa is infected with HIV/AIDs.  Just to give you a point of comparison, in the United States, about one half of one percent of adults are infected.  This disease creates a huge drain on the people of South Africa not only because it kills adults, but also because it orphans an insane amount of children.  Many of the missions that I visited on my trip, like the clinic in Capetown, are fighting to help both AIDs victims and AIDs orphans.

                    Another one of these missions, the Mosaic Housing Project focuses on providing stable lives for the mothers, neighbors, and relatives who take in AIDs orphans.  For a very small amount of rent, Mosaic provides foster parents of AIDs orphans with a home with running water and separate rooms for the boys, the girls, and the parents.  This may not seem like much, but a four room cinder block house with a sink is a major step above the slums from which these families came.  Not only does Mosaic provide families with safe homes, but they also provide jobs through their for-profit business Made by Mosaic.  Interestingly enough, Made by Mosaic is run by a young woman who is a missionary from Hopewell UMC in Downingtown named Jordan Ridge.  It is through Jordan that I met one of my favorite women on earth.

                   Dorah is the mother of a whole community of children. In addition to her own four kids, she took in three orphans when her sister died of AIDs.  Dorah welcomed me into her life like she welcomes everyone, with open arms and an open heart. She took me on a tour of her neighborhood, showing off the home that Mosaic built for her, taking pride over her children, and explaining her work.  Dorah lives in a Mosaic home and is a knitter for Made by Mosaic.  She made the scarf I am wearing today.  She has a stable job and works hard to provide for her family in a town where the unemployment rate is 80%.  And you can buy her work online.

                    Dorah’s life is by no means an example of justice.  One of her own children and one of her adopted children have special needs.  Her husband is an alcoholic, who doesn’t have a job.  Her sister died of AIDs.  And she has little to no education because she grew up under the apartheid system, which did not allow blacks to learn much of anything.  But despite the injustice of her situation, Dorah is at peace.  Tired as she is from her work, her smile is warm whenever anyone looks her way.  Stressed as she is by her children, her voice is calm and patient when she addressed them.  Tested as she is by life, she is happy.

                    When I visited Mosaic, I had the opportunity to meet Dorah’s family, including her eldest daughter.  Eighteen years old and unmarried, she got pregnant and now has a six month old baby.  The tradition in Dorah’s culture is to throw both the daughter and the illegitimate child out of the house and into the streets to fend for themselves.  But Dorah could not do this.  “God gave me a beautiful daughter,” Dorah told me.  “And God gave me a beautiful job. And God gave me beautiful friends.  And God gave me the chance to meet you.  I do not throw away God’s gifts,” she explained. “We are a community, and we must watch out for each another. That is why I love living here.  We care for each other.”

                    Dorah suffered some criticism from her peers for accepting her daughter into her home despite the unwanted pregnancy, but she took it all in stride.  There is a tranquility about her demeanor that caught me off guard.  I suppose I expected this woman to feel sorry for herself or hurt by her loss of a sister or angry at her unsupportive husband or upset with her pregnant daughter.  But Dorah is none of these things.  Dorah is at peace.

                    I met Dorah on my third full day in South Africa, and in the weeks that followed I met many more people who fell into the same pattern that she does: they live unjust lives but have peaceful hearts.  As I met these people and talked to them, my assumption that justice and peace are linked began to crumble.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  I always assumed that these peacemakers were creating peace in other people.  I thought that was our purpose.  But now I understand that to be true peacemakers, we must first create peace within ourselves. 

                       Justice, equality, fairness, these are all important goals for Christians, yes.  But our success or failure when it comes to creating justice for others does not change out ability to accept God’s peace for ourselves.  “My peace I GIVE to you,” Jesus tells us in John.  “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

                     As Christians, we are called to create justice for others.  When we think about the things that Jesus did while he was here on earth, we remember that he healed the sick, cared for the poor, ate with the sinners, and preached about how the weakest people will rise up and the most powerful people will fall down.  Our Gospel lesson that was read earlier confirms this.  But the main thing I learned while in Africa is that God doesn’t expect us to do this work on our own.  Reverend Kim Alexander, who I met later on in my trip, told us that when she first entered ministry people kept asking her if she thought she could change the world.  “No,” she told them.  “I know I cannot change the world.  But I also know that God can use me in some way for good.”

                     So with all this in mind, I ask you to join me in John Wesley’s covenant prayer.  Yes, we are called to create justice in this world.  Yes, we are called to dedicate our lives to the work of God, whether it is here at Rolling Hills or halfway across the world.  But we do not need to do any of this on our own.  God offers us His peace for free.

    Please join me on page 607 in your hymnal           

    Covenant Prayer:

    I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

     
  3. Botanical Gardens, Johannesburg, SA

     

  4. Forgotten

                    The thing that I cannot describe to you is the smell.  No picture could ever do it justice.  No documentary.  Only setting foot in such a place could make you understand.  In my mind, the informal settlement would not be an informal settlement were it not for the smell.  It would just be a collection of tightly knit metal homes.  No, the thing that defines the shanty town is the smell.

                     It is hard to hold back the tears when walking through Kliptown, the poorest informal settlement in Johannesburg.  Its paltry one third square miles of land is packed full with 7,500 people.  That’s a density of 25,000 people per square mile, which is comparable to New York City, except no one in Kliptown lives in a multi-level home.  Instead, they live in mkhukhus, small corrugated tin shacks erected hastily for immigrants who come to cities but never find work.  Hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa inhabit these shanty towns, the majority of whom are not actually South Africans but refugees from neighboring Sub-Saharan countries.

                    That day in Kliptown was my second time visiting families in informal settlements.   I thought I was prepared.  I thought I was calm as I took a deep breath of fresh air before stepping into the alleyway, its ground strewn with trash and atmosphere suffocated with decomposition.  I thought I was ready as I sneaked farther and farther into the complicated maze of paths and corridors.  I thought I knew how the mkhukhus would engulf me, eat me up until all I could see, smell, and hear was the poverty that inhabits their bowels.  But I wasn’t.  I knew nothing.

                    “We’re going to meet the mother of the neighborhood,” my guide informed me as we maneuvered around streams of filthy water and waste to enter the gate of a small courtyard surrounded by three tin shacks.  “She raised me, you know” he continued.  “She raised us all.  Her compassion never ends.”  I peeked inside the open doorway to my left into a room maybe five feet wide and seven feet long, with three women, two children, and no furniture, heat, or electricity inside.  “Come meet her,” he interrupted my gaze, beckoning me into the middle shack.

                    “Mama, these are my American friends!”  She looked old, probably much older than she is, sitting on the floor of a tiny kitchen wrapped in a blanket next to two children with two younger women seated on chairs above her.  She smiled and shook my hand before I was ushered out of the room, off to meet someone else important, someone else who meant the world to these people but meant absolutely nothing to the world.  Forgotten, the people of the informal settlements are pushed off of the good land, into communities that are overlooked by the average South African citizen and the pervading corrupt politicians.

                    I left her and continued down the alleyway, hopping over piles of rubbish and streams of God-knows-what as we made our way to the water spout.  “An important part of our community,” our guide informed me.  “My parents met at the water spout; it holds a sort of mystical charm for me.  Were it not for the water spout, I would not be here.”  One water spout and one port-a-potty for seven to ten families with ten to fifteen people per family.  That is one toilet for up to 150 people.  I stood, staring at that port-a-potty in the hot afternoon sun, fixated on that number.  One hundred and fifty.  I share a bathroom with one brother who spends half his time at college.  One hundred and fifty.  The bowels of hell leave no room for comfort.

                    I stood staring at that port-a-potty and water spout with a bead of sweat dripping down my back until I heard his voice, a mix between a shout and a yip of glee.  I turned and saw the boy I will never forget—a small child, maybe four years old and only reaching up to my knees.  With pants but no shirt, a right sandal but no left, this little boy came running and dancing out of an alleyway, slamming into my friend, wrapping his stubby little arms around her legs, and refusing to let go.  She bent down and patted his head, and he smiled up at her before moving on, attaching himself to a new set of legs and receiving another pat.  One by one he greeted us, a face of heaven in the depths of hell.  He smiled and jumped and played in front of me, fascinated by my camera and jubilated by our presence. 

                    Soon enough it was time to move on.  We walked away, leaving the little boy bent in the dust by the water spout.  It’s hard not to cry when walking through Kliptown, and in that moment tears stung at my eyes.  In the midst of all the poverty and violence and disease and overcrowding that makes Kliptown the hell that it is, there was a beacon of light.  Right there at the mystical water spout was a boy, much like every other little boy.  The residents of informal settlements like this one are often forgotten.  And those who fight to help them face a constant lack of funding and support.  But I will not forget walking through hell and seeing heaven.  I will not forget that boy.

                    As we worked our way back out of the bowels of the mkhukhus, a woman stopped us.  “Help them.  Help these kids.”  She pleaded, pointing to the youngsters crouched in the trash and dirt.  “Help them have a better life than I do.  I used to think that I could be someone.  I used to think I could make something out of my life.  But then I realized that I was wrong.  No matter what I do, I will never be anything because I was born here.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Help them.” 

                    So that is exactly what I plan to do.

     
  5. Kliptown, the largest and most vibrant informal settlement in Johannesburg, is home to 7,500 people who are packed into 0.3 square miles of land.  That’s a density of 25,000 people per square mile, which is comparable to New York City, except no one in Kliptown lives in a multi-level home.

    Photo by Thomas Schmidt

     

  6. "The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid."
    — JD Salinger
     
  7. I will not forget.

    Kliptown, Johannesburg, SA

     

  8. "To see with the eyes of Jesus is messy and sensitive work. We want our people to come in a nicely wrapped box, particularly with a bow on it. But our real call is to stand in the gap for those without a voice. Our real job is to help those who can’t adeptly represent themselves."
    — Rev. Kim Alexander
     
  9. Morning walks on the beach at Fish Hoek, Cape Town, SA

     

  10. "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."
    — Mark Twain
     
  11. Tortoise.

    Botanical Gardens, Johannesburg, SA

     

  12. What is enough?

                     “Photo!” He squealed in delight as I pulled the camera out of my backpack.  It was the first and only word I would hear him speak in English that day.  The child, maybe four years old, attends a preschool in the Princess Settlement of Johannesburg where no one knows his name.

                    Stepping out of the bus two hours earlier, I was greeted by a pregnant dog at my feet, biting her swollen stomach, flies swarming around her ears, her ragged fur in patches around her malnourished framework of bones.  I stepped over her and towards the crèche we were visiting.  It was a dilapidated but once cheerful building.  Painted yellow and made of concrete, it stood out from the gray tin shacks that made up the rest of the neighborhood.  As we entered, signs of long use met our eyes.  The green, soccer ball laminate flooring was ripping up in sections, the once golden walls were covered in dirt, and the light fixtures hung useless from the ceiling without any electricity to power them.  Huddled in the corners of the room were children, varying in age from infants of three months to five and six year olds.  I walked over to one particularly shy child and sat down.  He was staring at the floor, taking quick glances up at me and his peers, and then looking back down again.  I made attempts to catch his attention, to get him to play like the others, but he took no notice.  So I sat with him, silently, until I pulled my camera out of my backpack to take a picture of the other rambunctious children in the room.

                    “Photo!” He squealed in delight.  Instead of pointing the camera at the little girl across the room, I pointed it at him, took a picture, and turned the camera around to show him the result.

                    “Photo!” He said again, pointing at himself on the screen.  He then reached forward excitedly, grabbing for my camera.  I pulled it away, afraid that he would break my expensive equipment.  But the little boy was so excited by the camera.  He was shaken from his state of shy reservation and had become active, and I know I would have given anything to make him come alive again.

                    “Photo!” He screamed and reached forward as I nervously placed 500 dollars’ worth of camera into his outstretched hands.  Our trip’s photographer shot me a nervous look over the boy’s shoulder.  I nodded, aware of what I was doing as the little boy began snapping away, taking picture after picture, changing random settings that took me hours to change back, getting frustrated when he couldn’t figure out what he had done.  But he was happy.  He was interactive.  For two hours we sat with a wooden children’s puzzle of a rooster.  He handed me all the pieces and then selected one to begin with, always the same piece and struggled for a minute to put it into its place.  After that, he selected another and then another, always in the same order, always trying various different locations and orientations before sliding it into its correct spot.  When he finished, he held the puzzle up over his head and shouted, “photo!”  And I snapped a picture.  After inspecting my work, he returned to his puzzle and dumped the pieces back into my awaiting hands, and the process started over again.  Over and over for two hours.  But he was happy.

                    When it became time for us to leave, I pried the camera out of his grasp then picked him up and gave him a hug.  He clung to my shirt with a tenacity I wasn’t expecting and whispered something into my ear, too soft to understand.  “What?” I questioned him until he repeated it again, a little louder.  It became clear that what he was saying was not English.  He repeated it into my ear over and over, with increasing desperation and intensity.  I tried to repeat it back to him, tried to help him understand that I did not understand.  But it was too late.  I pried his hand away from my shirt as I had done with my camera minutes before and put him down on the worn green laminate floor.  I forced myself to turn my back as a tear rolled down my cheek.  As I walked out of the room, he called out once last time the phrase that continues to haunt me.

    As I slugged back to the bus, our multilingual tour guide caught my eye.  I explained to him what happened and tried to repeat the little boy’s phrase, but my pronunciation was off.  “We need to know what the child needs to say,” was his response, as he grabbed my hand and led me back into the building despite the fact that everyone else was ready to go.  We found the child again, and I picked him up again, but he refused to speak.  He hugged me tightly but would not open up his mouth.  I tried and tried to pronounce the phrase, to get him to repeat it back to me.  He would not.  All he did was dig his little fingers deeper and deeper into my shoulder.  Once again, it was time to go.  Once again, I separated his fingers from my shirt and put him down.  Once again, I had to walk out of that building, and once again, there were tears in my eyes.

                    “All he needed was a little love,” our tour guide Booysie whispered into my ear as he patted my shoulder.  “And you did good.  You gave him what he needed.”  But all I could think was that there are too many children and there is so little love.  That there is too much need and there is only so much I can give.  But as I look back at the pictures and remember that boy’s smile, I remember that in that moment he was happy.  And somehow, that is enough.

     

  13. "The river to God is less like a calm stream and more like a white water rapid, and I have learned that only dead fish go with the flow."
    — Katie Shumway
     
  14. Table Top Mountain, Cape Town, SA

     

  15. Adrienne Joy Newcomer

                There is something about the symmetry of my names.  Eight letters in the first and eight in the last, bookends to the tiny three letter word in the middle.  For most of my life, these two eight letter words have hogged the spotlight.  “Yo Adrienne!” and “Are you NEW here Miss Newcomer?” haunt me wherever I go.  In all the attention that these two names draw and all the jokes that they are the butt of, my middle name has gone unnoticed.  Yet this little, forgotten three letter word is my most important name of all.

                Adrienne, strong yet feminine, was the one name that my mom always wanted to use for a girl, and it is all that she hoped it would be.  Newcomer, a Pennsylvania Dutch name that traces to my German ancestors, is equally satisfactory.  Joy, though, has been more troublesome.  My parents maintain that they picked it because they were overjoyed to have a daughter (and, thus, were done having children).  But to me, it seemed that Joy is simply something short to squeeze between my first and last name to keep it from being too long.  It held no significance for me besides its aesthetic qualities.  That is, until I traveled to South Africa this winter.

                J. D. Salinger once wrote, “The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid,” and I must admit that I agree.  My life has been filled with solid happiness, but very rarely has this heated up to the point that its solid nature melts into liquid joy.  During my three-week stay in South Africa, I experienced more joy than I have in years of living in America.  This is not to say that I am not happy here.  I have a wonderful family, a first rate education, supportive friends, and activities that excite and challenge me.  But I have come to know that joy is not about what you have.  Otherwise, its slippery substance would not have eluded me for so long.  Joy, as I am finally coming to know, is a mindset.  It is gratitude for what you have combined with the desire to work for what you need but not more than what you need.  The most joyful people in South Africa were not the rich whites, but the poor blacks.  Despite the fact that they live in what we would consider to be slums, they live more richly than we ever will.  They know what we who live in a materialistic society do not understand: your life is a gift and is, indeed, a precious one.  They understand that there are more important things in this world than what can be bought in store.  It is with this new understanding that I strive to no longer be Adrienne Newcomer, but Adrienne Joy Newcomer—strong yet feminine, willing to try new things, and most importantly, joyful in all that I do.