EMU Cross-Cultural

Contrasts and challenges

Buenas Días!

It is our second week here in Guatemala City and I think I’m finally starting to become accustomed to Guatemalan life. The Frijoles (beans) and eggs at least once a day, the crazy packed buses and their routes, the men with firearms that you can find on every street and the coffee at every time of the day, especially supper.

We have Spanish language classes in the morning but in the afternoons we either have someone come in to teach us more about the culture we have been immersed in, or we go out to see sights around the city.  On Friday last week we had the chance to go to the national cemetery and the landfill which was located just behind the cemetery.

When I was told we would be visiting the cemetery National Cemetery, Guatemala City I was picturing one a lot like the Arlington cemetery in D.C. with rows of white tombstones.  What we saw instead were rows and rows of small plots of land where people had built very elaborate and artistic family mausoleums. Some of them were the size of small houses and decorated like palaces.  Further on into the cemetery we came to a wall of graves that are rented out for 14 years, most of them decorated beautifully. At the cemetery we got to walk around and look at the memorials of different groups that impacted Guatemala in major ways (Teachers, Germans, Chinese…)

We walked to the end of the cemetery then to a place where we could overlook the landfill.  It was filled with people who go through the trash when it comes in and scavenge for anything they think could be of any value, such as metals or things they could fix.  The people working there typically just don’t have the skills or the education to acquire other jobs. Our guide from CASAS pointed out that from the landfill those working could see the top of the big mall, but most of the people in the mall didn’t even know that people were working down there in such rough conditions.  Not a happy thought.

Guatemala is teaching all of us a lot and who could ask for a better place to absorb that information? The people here are gracious and welcoming, and the weather is in the 70’s and perfect just about every day.  All of your thoughts and prayers are appreciated as we continue to experience this culture that is very  different from what we are accustomed to back in the states.

-Heather Tieszen


It is hard to believe that our first week in Guatemala is over, but it was a week of many experiences. Spanish classes started, we began learning more about the history of Guatemala, a routine was set, and more time was spent with our host families. One interesting thing we did was go to the palace of the President, aka the White House of Guatemala, and were given a tour. Inside the palace there were giant murals of the Mayans and Spaniards, ballrooms, courtyards, and statues. One statue that stood out was the intervention of left hands on top of more hands representing the people of the nation. The two giant hands represented the government of the nation coming together to end the civil war. Every day a freshly cut white rose is placed within these hands to represent the peace of the country. After the palace we had a scavenger hunt within the historical part of the city. The objective was to get a greater sense of the everyday lives of the people, and to learn more history of the area.

Also during this week it seems that most have blended into city life well. Most have begun navigating the city without the help of our host families, and also don’t feel like such strangers anymore. It is impressive to see how the progress of communicating in Spanish has improved in the one week of being here. Twice now my host family has taken me to the supermarket and has gone over everything in the store, giving me its name in Spanish. One day we must have been there for 2 hours and gone over at least 200 items. It is truly impressive to see how grateful each family is to have us and their willingness to help us learn.

-Alex Wynn


My Guatemala experience thus far has been one filled with contrasts. As our Cross-cultural group continues to meet with speakers and engage in conversation, we are each given more materials to shuffle through and reflect on.

One of the largest contrasts I have experienced thus far was our trip to the local basudero (dump). As we walked to the edge of the cemetery, we were greeted by a strong smell that reminded me of fast food that had gone bad, as well as flocks of vulture like birds that dispersed as we neared the cliff’s edge. From the edge we saw below us in a large valley piles of trashA view of Guatemala City's landfill and waste debris pushed into mounds by large garbage trucks. Within the piles of trash you could see men and women sifting through the debris, searching for something of worth. I saw one man heaving a bag that was twice as large as himself on his back through the trash. On the edge of the ravine, gray and white cinder-block homes lined the gorge, giving us a view into a different reality.

Over the tree line from the dump, we could see the top of one of Guatemala’s ritziest shopping malls, Miraflores. Earlier that week, I had actually been there with my host family to visit the clean, expensive, high class location. But from Miraflores I was unable to see the dump. The thought of life near the dump did not even cross my mind.

As we left the dump, my mind was filled with the thoughts of two realities. One, like that of my host family and my own life in the United States, filled with ‘security’ and comfort. Another filled with a possible insecure future and discomfort.

When I arrived home for the day, I explained what I had seen to my host family’s house help, Epep. After listening intently, she pointed out that though our lives and the opportunities we are offered differ here on earth, what really matters is having God in our hearts. What happens in this life will happen, but in the end we will all have the same choice. She reminded me that we all have the choice to invite God into our lives and have eternal life. Epep’s comment to me was extra powerful because she herself works long hours and comes from a hard life. But despite what life has sent her way, she continues to praise God in every circumstance.

So with these thoughts I was left to ponder the contrasts of Guatemala that I have seen and will continue to see. I was challenged to find God in everything around me, just like my friend Epep.

– Rose Jantzi


First insights from Egypt

The group in front of the Giza Pyramids I think I can speak for most of the group when I say this past week has been a whirl-wind of once in a lifetime experiences, delicious foods, and the start of some great friendships.

Since arriving in Egypt, my time here has been what I had hoped it would be and more. I have seen wonders of the world, eaten fresh fish while overlooking the Mediterranean, and have encountered some beautiful people both inside our group and outside it. When I reflect over this week I cannot help but feel blessed by this amazing opportunity to learn and grow in a culture very different from my own.

A highlight that I wish to share with you all, stems from a fear of mine, and is placed in a gorgeous Coptic Church retreat center called Anafora. Anafora was founded by Bishop Thomas, a famous outspoken bishop of Upper Egypt, whom we had the opportunity to talk with about his theories on the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian conflict and why they clash. A fear of mine going into this trip was that I would not be ready or prepared to encounter the hurt of the people or the land. However, Bishop Thomas shared that we all have the responsibility to love everyone. He said that “love can change the world.” The kind of love that is from God and is never-ending. After hearing from the bishop, it hit me that love needs to be my focus and from the love comes healing and peace. To me, Bishop Thomas’s words were a simple, yet beautiful preparation; not only for the rest of cross-cultural but for the rest of my life.

Another highlight has been experiencing the beauty of symbolism found everywhere in Egypt. Symbolism that ranges from hieroglyphics in the pyramids to pillars in the Coptic churches. Everything has a meaning and it’s always so interesting to learn about it. I’m thankful for our tour guides and awesome leaders who show us the meaning of basically everything we encounter.

To end, I want to share an example of this Linford and Joel Rittenhouse watch as a carpet maker works on a silk rug inside an Oriental Carpet School symbolism that has touched me personally. All throughout Anafora there are beautiful rugs of many colors, all made from recycled scraps. When Sarah, a former IVEPer (Mennonite Central Committee volunteer) and friend to the EMU community, told us about them, she said they are to symbolize all God’s people coming together. All of us different, but together forming something beautiful. To me, this is what cross-cultural is all about, meeting different people, learning from and loving them, all the while forming something beautiful.

– Hannah Tissue


Ahlan wa Sahlan from Egypt! Our group arrived in Cairo a week ago and is still settling into the fact that this much anticipated adventure in the Middle East has actually begun!

My first glimpse of Egypt centered in on the night life in Cairo: veiled women walking the sidewalks, groups of men drinking tea and smoking hookah in dimly lit coffee shops, children scampering between street vendors selling sunglasses, scarves, oranges, or roasted sweet corn. Through the dusty bus windows, I also witnessed the roads crowded with cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and pedestrians; each navigator having a specific destination in mind yet no one knowing exactly how to achieve the desired end through the chaos of everyone trying to find their own way.

Chaos. Not only does this word apply to physical navigation in Egypt but to the “spiritual navigation” in this place as well. Egypt is spiritually alive. Both the historical and modern perspectives of Egypt point to a culture that is focused on the spiritual realm. During our time here we’ve seen this all around us: in the symbolism of rituals performed after the death of ancient pharaohs (whose tombs we’ve explored), in the man meditating inside one of the pyramids of Giza, in the miracle stories of faith that moved mountains here in Egypt, in the Anna Hershey and other students admire the architecture of a mosque devotion of Muslims who obey the call to prayer that is broadcast five times a day, in the reverence of the 7 PM to 12AM Coptic church service celebrating Jesus’ baptism, in the evening prayers and morning mass at our retreat center…

All of these practices and faith backgrounds here are a sort of Cairo-like street scene with each person or group trying to navigate the culture through the lens of their own spirituality, despite opposition from people of other faith backgrounds.  In many places here, this “street scene” has seemed pretty dark. However, glimmers of light do appear in the midst of this darkness in the form of the work of monks at the Bishoy Monastery or the ministry of the Anafora retreat center and Bishop Thomas.

And so, as the drama of the street scene unfolds and the vastness of the spiritual darkness can seem overwhelming here, there is a hope in me that stems from my knowledge that Jesus is here too, walking alongside each navigator trying to find his or her way through the chaos.  The same truth can be said for our group members as we navigate this new place with open eyes, minds and hearts. And may the same be said for all of you at home as well.


-Chaska Yoder

New in Guatemala City

Group photo at the FEGUA Museum January 16, 2012
What a crazy week! It’s Monday, and I’m in Guatemala, which is still kind of surreal. Some things are different; others are not. The weather is amazing! It is a warm, spring day. Every day. I survived my first flight, which was good. It was incredible looking out the window and seeing the clouds create a seascape, and seeing Cuba!

Once in Guatemala City, a bus from CASAS (Central America Study and Service) came to pick us up. Our group will have language classes there for the next 8 weeks. Some new sights along the way: police with rifles, barbed wire on top of every fence, plants and flowers growing on the barbed wire, and crazy driving where no one wears seat belts.

The people are very welcoming. My host dad played music in English in the car for me and my host mom, brother and I watched The Hangover Part 2 with Spanish subtitles.  Oh, yes. It feels like spring!

-Mary Sodano

Saying good-bye

South Africa is beautiful. This is not beauty that is thrown around every day to describe people and scenery. This beauty is a deep, awe inspiring, starts in your chest, makes-you-feel-in-love beauty. We have traveled far and wide across South Africa and Lesotho, each stop offering a new inimitable take on beauty. Soweto presented a vibrant, effervescent culture and hospitality unlike anything I have ever experienced. The mountains in Lesotho were utterly unparalleled in their age-old majesty. The endless plains of the Great Karoo dotted with proud Kudu and Springboks left me breathless.

Cape Town is our final stop in South Africa and once again it has surprised me with its splendor. Table Mountain captured the awe of the Dutch captains almost 400 years ago and its ageless grandeur has struck me just the same. The beaches are comparably unreal with pristine white sand and crystal clear water. This beauty conquers urges to capture it, not one moment can be wasted.

-Aaron Springer

Wrist watch and Chaco tan lines have become apparent.  Thousands of photos have been taken.  Bags, earrings, jerseys, and numerous other souvenirs have been collected and worn.  These are a few tangible ways to see how we’ve been traveling and experiencing South Africa and Lesotho.  Although we have gotten tan and taken tokens of the beautiful South Africa, we have gained so much more that is not visible to the eye.  The most important part of our time here has been placed in our hearts and minds.  No amount of words or pictures can capture our true experience.

Our experience is unique to each one of us on the trip.  I have been shown so much love and beauty through my host families, other natives of the country, and the EMU group.  I have learned so much about myself, other people, the history and culture of South Africa and Lesotho, and my faith walk.  As the trip comes to an end, I have been reflecting more and more on my experience here.  We are all seeking ways to find connections with our time here and our life at home.  Although I am sad to be leaving such a wonderful country and cross-cultural, I’m excited to take what I’ve experienced back with me.

Although we are taking part of South Africa with us, I know we have left a little of ourselves behind.  This place has become a home away from home for many of us.  Challenges have been overcome.  Friendships have been formed.  New perspectives have been presented.  Joy, love, sadness, humility, and peace have been felt.  We have been on a journey that changes lives and now it is time to say good-bye here and hello to our next adventure.

-Kimberly Lane

Sharing Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a well known, important holiday in America. Who would have thought families in Cape Town, South Africa would want to experience it with us.  I live with Justin Hershey, two retired parents and an older brother.  The first day we arrived in our home-stay we were showered with love and questions about Thanksgiving.  Soon week two rolled around, and we were asked to make pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes because that is American. Thanksgiving Day was soon upon us and we came home to a hustling, bustling mother.  She didn’t do anything without a smile. We made the potatoes along side of her in the open door, 27 degree Celsius weather.  It was the warmest Thanksgiving ever!

Soon family members began to arrive. We added chairs and tables to include ten people.  At first it was quiet, but eventually the table erupted with sounds of laughter and stories.  I felt at home in South Africa on the day set apart to be thankful for your home.  A love for this new family enclosed me. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have had Thanksgiving in South Africa.

-Kiera Stenson


Cape Town is an important economic, political, and cultural center in South Africa, as well as the origin of western influence in the region. It differs greatly from other places we have visited on this cross-cultural in that we are again surrounded by the establishments and ideologies of western society that were far distant for the majority of the trip. Seeing and being immersed in modern technology, media, consumerism, and a “comfortable” lifestyle has been enjoyable, but I don’t feel the same care or urgency to build relationships that I felt in Lesotho or Soweto. Here, life is full of material things and entertainment, eliminating the need for much human interaction while leaving many satisfied and happy, just like in America.

Lion's Head view north-west over Atlantic Ocean, Robben Island at center On the brighter side of things, weather has been gorgeous, in the 70’s, with sun almost every day, and flowers blooming around every corner. Hikes up the various mountain peaks within the city have had rewarding views. Two or three times a week our group meets for lectures at the University of Cape Town, with subjects ranging from current politics to the history of slavery in South Africa.

We have been quite lucky to have visits from notable historians like Nigel Warden, and respected political analysts like Richard Calland. Most recently, Calland educated us about the socio-economics of South Africa’s Constitution, that is, all people’s rights to housing, food, clean water etc. These are necessities that have yet to be universally available to all South Africans. We are thankful for one last set of graciously welcoming host-families, and can’t wait to be welcomed home by our real families very soon. In the meantime, the waves and warm ocean call, and I must answer before I find myself in an all together different kind of December weather, across the sea.

-Joaquin Sosa


Cape Town


Have you ever seen the movie Invictus? There’s a beautiful scenery shot of Table Bay, Cape Town, and the breathtaking surrounding mountains. I was watching that movie with some friends last summer and at that scene, one of them looked back, pointed at me, and mouthed, “that’s going to be YOU!” That seemed surreal. Not only could I not imagine being in Africa, but I knew that there were plenty of experiences to be had before I even began to think about Cape Town. Now, in the cliché way of travelers, I can’t believe I’m actually here.

One of the things that initially drew me to the South Africa/Lesotho cross-cultural was the huge diversity that we not only experience, but live in during our three months here. We began in a poor city township that was packed so full of people that there was never a second of silence. We moved on to a tiny, rural village, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where we had no electricity and cooked by candlelight.  We then spend a week in a small Afrikaner farming town where several of us where given our own guesthouse for the week.

And then there’s Cape Town.Cape Town welcome ceremony

Capetonians tell us that Cape Town is completely different from any other African city, and even in my limited experience, I can see that they‘re right.  Cape Town is a beautifully diverse city, both culturally and geographically.  Towering mountains drop off directly into the ocean, pristine white beaches are sandwiched between jagged rocks, and a 20 minute drive through the city takes you into lush green forests and award-winning vineyards. The people are as diverse as the land, including large populations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, white, colored, and black South Africans, Dutch, French, British, Malaysian, and Indian descendants, Afrikaners, and many others in between.

First day at UCT Being here is a strange mix of culture that seems very similar to our own yet very different at the same time. Downtown Cape Town feels like I could be home in Pittsburgh, but turn one corner and I’m in a squatter township.  My roommate, Rebekah Graham, and I are living with a wonderful retired couple whose housing style is much more similar to what we are used to than other home-stays we’ve experience along the way. We’ve spent most of this past week between lectures at the University of Cape Town and doing all of the “touristy” things around the city.  The dynamics among people here are still very much shaped by the mentality remaining from the institution of Apartheid.

Over all, being in Cape Town has so far been a strange conflicting tug of emotions.  Uncomfortable, almost guilty relief to be back in a somewhat familiar culture competes with a deep sadness that we’ve left that vibrant head-spinning, loving culture we lived with for two months.   Hope that spending our last several weeks in Cape Town will diminish culture shock upon returning home competes with the jarring reminders everywhere that we are in a place where racism, segregation, and inequality still dictate many aspects of life.  An increasing anxiety to be home competes with a new, profound love and respect for this beautiful country and its people.

What does this all mean, to you or me?  I don’t know.  This experience is going to take a long time to process and I know that a small blog post means very little in the vastness of life.  I’ll simply urge you to do this: be aware of the people around you.  Learn to respect cultures around you that are different than your own.  At the risk of sounding outstandingly cliché . . . It will change your world.

– Anna Weaver


Beyond the Facade

Everything that makes Cape Town famous overshadows its best qualities. It’s true that Table Mountain was just voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and boasts some of the hottest beaches. However, what I am experiencing is that the expensive resorts and tourist attractions hide the fact that there exists a massive amount of disparity between the rich and poor, as well as the amazing diversity of people in Cape Town. I am discovering the true lifeline of the city beyond the façade of the five star hotels and the million dollar houses.

I have fallen in love with a different part of Group discussions in the classroom at UCT Cape Town than I expected. In the shadow of Table Mountain is a diverse community from many different cultures and parts of the world. Living with a Colored family here is widening my perspective of South African history even more, as I continue
to learn about how ethnicity plays a large role in all levels of politics and economics.

I am experiencing that cities in South Africa often promote an aspect of tourism that does not display the authentic citizen. The authentic citizen is what lies beyond the façade and is what needs to be promoted. My greatest memories from the time spent in Africa are not bungee jumping, surfing, or climbing Table Mountain (even though they were awesome). My best memories are from the conversations and experiences I have had with the authentic citizens. The lasting joy I have felt from South Africa and Lesotho has been from the relationships built with my host families while living alongside them in everyday life.

– Justin King

Free travel journals

Wilderness, SA Watching shark week on the Discovery Channel has ruined the ocean for me. I can no longer go in the water without the thought of a shark taking off with my thigh. However, more specifically shark week has given me a fear of the South African coast because this is where all the stories of great whites come from.  With that being said, when David first offered to go surfing on free travel with me, I said no. As time went on, I decided this was my time to be brave. So we called the surf shop in Mossel Bay and rented some boards and wet suits.

We arrived at the beach nervous but excited, and when I say we were nervous, I mean I was nervous. The scariest thing was the fact that Seal Island (a hot spot for great whites) was within eye sight. We then suited up and got in the water. Luckily the water was so cold it took my mind off my fear of the sharks. The waves were big and constant. For an experienced surfer this might mean catching some great waves. However, for me it meant struggling to keep my board attached without hitting myself in the face with it. Over the whole time we saw no sign of sharks but did have a close call with a seal. In the end I learned two things about myself, I cannot swim well and my balance is terrible. I had lots of fun, and hope to do it again sometime.

-Aaron Brydge


Over the past week, we have been traveling to different backpacker lodges every couple days along the Garden Route.  It was very interesting seeing the different cities and towns.  Laci, Sarah Grace, Rebekah and I went to three different lodges in five days. Out of the three places we went, I really enjoyed Mossel Bay.

We stayed at a nice place called Little Brak Beach House. It was 10 minutes away from the city of Mossel Bay. I loved being away from the city and just relaxing.  Thankfully, we had a wonderful day at the beach while we were there.  In Wilderness, Laci and I were laying out and we got “waved on”. The lodge reminded me of home, which was so relaxing.  We had pizza one night and stir-fry the last night.  It was a lot of fun getting to know the girls more. Now I am looking forward to the next month in Cape Town.

-Jessica Blanks


Over the course of the past week, our group split into smaller groups and spent “Fall Break” touring the Garden Route.  The Garden Route is the path one travels along the Eastern Coast of South Africa that offers many convenient excursions and amenities geared towards tourists. My group, consisting of Heidi Bauman, Laura Hershey, Anna Weaver and Kiera Stenson, started in Plettenberg Bay followed by Mossel Bay and ended in Stellenbosh. The week was mostly spent basking in the hot African sun on the white sandy beaches of the beautiful, blue Indian Ocean. By far, the best fall break in college! One of the excursions I ventured on was deep sea fishing in Mossel Bay with Justin King. It was a joke of sorts in that since we had celebrated our birthdays on the same day, it was our gift to each other.  We set sail into the wide, blue yonder on “Sharky” the name of our motorboat. Once we got past the swells and intense waves the ocean was peaceful.

The famous hymn “It is well” by Horatio Spafford immediately consumed my thoughts. Spafford had written the hymn in remembrance of his four daughters, over the spot where the boat had capsized. Through unimaginable tragedy, Spafford penned the hymn, inspiring hope and peace through good and bad times in life.  Justin and I engaged in conversation, one in particular, about the powers of water and its versatility, more specifically the vastness of the ocean.  During our silence, I then made a parallel to God.  Isn’t God the same way? He has exposed himself to me in so many different ways throughout the past two months in South Africa, through trials and tribulations and blessings, both obvious and in disguise.  His presence is as big as the Indian Ocean and as small as the smile on Lindiwe’s face, my five year old host brother in Lesotho.

God is omnipotent and versatile.  Although God is constant, I am constantly growing and changing as a result of His vastness.  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to engage in relationships with Africans and even more so, with each member on this cross-cultural.  The beauty of it all is that the journey is far from over.

-Sarah Leland





Reflections on Bethulie, love and what we have left behind


The group left Lesotho on October 23rd bound for Bethulie, South Africa, an Afrikaaner town in the Free State.  Some were ready to go, to do something different.  I was not one of those people.  Lesotho for me had been an eye-opening yet amazing experience, and I missed the village and my host family as soon as the bus pulled away. I didn’t know much about Bethulie, but since we would only be there a week, I was sure it would not be nearly as meaningful as Lesotho.  As you can probably guess by where I’m going with this, I was wrong.

We pull up into this small rural town and immediately have to readjust our thinking, because there are white people on the sidewalk, and we’ve all grown accustomed to being the only white people for miles. Once we get over our “culture” shock, we bring our bags into the hotel, which is more of just a big house that is owned by an English historian named Tony Hocking. The books lining the walls, the delicious meals and the time being back together as a group those first few days helped Lesotho start to fade away as a happy memory, but I still wished I could go back and see my family.

Our short home stays (2 ½ days) began on the 25th and again I was skeptical. How could I connect with a family in that short amount of time, and with a culture that I hadn’t learned about yet? God works in funny ways, because the following days were some of the best I’ve had yet!

Laura, Madelyn, Heidi, Jess and I were picked up by our host dad, Peter, in an ancient Ford pick-up.  The first thing we noticed about Peter was his long scraggly gray hair and beard, giving him a wild look. We nicknamed him John the Baptist, if you will.  He drives us away to an old-looking house, which turns out to be a backpacker/guest house that he and his wife own.  He gives us the keys and tells us we have the run of the place. You can imagine our delight at the sound of a washing machine!

Later his wife Annette comes over and they take us over to their other business, a coffee shop they run by themselves. They even offered us coffee and tarts.  We were all in heaven. Peter and Annette are both of German descent, born in Namibia and grew up in South Africa. They met at a bike rally, as they are both avid bikers, and one day left Capetown on their bikes with all they had to see where the road would take them, and ended up in Bethulie.  Annette is a magnificent baker (as evidenced by how many muffins and tarts we ate in those few days) and we learned that despite his looks, Peter is a huge joker who loved to call us “my girls”.  Those few days were full of adventures and fun. We spent one day at a sheep farm with Peter,  hiking, swimming, eating more tarts and experiencing incredible views of both scenery and wild game (wildebeest, hartebeest, springbok and ostrich) from the back of the farmer’s pick-up (called a buckie here).  Thursday, Annette took us to see her artist friend who had the most beautiful house and paintings.  In the evening she cooked us an authentic Boer meal of which we may have had thirds.

Come Friday morning, we didn’t want to leave. In two short days, we had grown very fond of our unique parents. I couldn’t believe that yet again God had shown me family I could connect to and love in addition to my own, and in such a short time! I still miss my Lesotho family, but this stay in Bethulie has shown me that God has much more in store for me and the group here in South Africa, even when we think it couldn’t get any better that what we’ve had. “There are greater things to come than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis

-Eva Stutzman


Love was in South Africa

October 22nd, we spent our last day in Lesotho. That evening, I read a great Rob Bell book entitled Love Wins. I absolutely loved the many ideas regarding God’s love conquering everything, and these challenges are constantly prodding my thinking as I learn about South Africa’s incredible history, both past and present, unfolding before my eyes.

After we left Lesotho, we arrived in Bethulie, which is located in the south-central region of the country, and we went on a fascinating three-hour bus tour. Our guide told us that during the 2nd British-Boer War, which occurred from October 1899 until May 1902, 7,000 Dutch soldiers died in battle.  However, England really won the war by gathering the Dutch women and children in concentration camps and allowing 27,000 victims to die in these camps, 22,000 of which were under the age of 16.  The British drained the Dutch will-power to fight through seizing their families’ freedom. So was Rob Bell right? Does God’s love reign supreme? Did love win at the concentration camps?

I have also pondered about whether love wins throughout the country today.  Our group has learned what a South Africa recession looks like throughout our journey; 26% unemployment, teachers whose only resources are a chalkboard and a few old books, and numerous kids that are thin – too thin.  Does love still win if I can go to college and expect to find a job in two years even though most South Africans can only dream of living my life?

On a lighter note, our group has chosen to laugh, share, pray, and listen to each other.  A few days ago, Harlan even told us how much he appreciated our group and that he’s glad we are his fellow tribe members.  I’m also very glad to have Harlan, Jason and Elizabeth as our leaders and the emphasis they place on love winning in our group, whatever that may mean.  For instance, any time a group member is ill, we sing and pray for them.  One of the guys in our group helped an elderly, handicapped man in Lesotho climb a hill to his house.  This stranger asked and received.  If love means laughing together, singing and praying for the sick and disregarding one’s own wishes in order to slowly help an elderly man climb a hill, then why wouldn’t we choose the transforming power of love? If this is love then Rob Bell is certainly right. Love wins for our group in South Africa.

-Aaron Sloan


Farewell from our Lesotho community

On Friday, our last full day in our homes, our mothers threw us a large farewell party held at my house. As I was dressing in my Shoeshoewe (traditional Basotho cloth) shirt from Soweto my sister Manapo burst in the door holding a beautiful red Shoeshoewe dress that she insisted I put on. She put my hair up under a matching headdress and wrapped me in a Seanamarena (traditional Basotho blanket). When I was finally ready for the party, I was surprised to see that all the other mothers had dressed their children in traditional clothing as well. Most of the village was present, the children standing around gawking at the funny-looking Basotho: all in Shoeshoewe, thick wool blankets, and boys wielding Molemo sticks. However, I believe that our group has never looked better. We were happy to be together.

It was a proud moment for our mothers and special for us to be dressed in their clothing, singing and dancing with them.  We ate traditional food of sorghum and dinawa (beans) and sour porridge (leshelisheli). Our beaming mothers presented us with the gift of a hat. For me the party was a celebration of unity, a chance to revel in the relationship our group formed with the community.  The following morning I was sad to leave my little Lesotho homestead, but I couldn’t help but smile as my mom carried my backpack towards the Malealea Lodge joking to all the villagers “I’m going to America, see you in five years!” she refused to hug me goodbye, insisting that she’d see me at the send-off. The three weeks in Lesotho truly flew by even though in the village the concept of “hurry” is foreign. Life without many distractions from God and relationships is precious – something for us all to strive for.

-Laura Hershey


A day in Lesotho

I was awakened at three this morning to what has become a familiar sound.  Someone in my room was using the midnight express (the bucket one uses when having to use the toilet in the night so you don’t have to go out to the outhouse). Without opening my eyes I rolled over and fell back asleep, thankful that I still had a couple hours left to sleep. At 5:30 I awakened again, this time to the sound of my host mother rustling her covers. Trying to get out of the nest she sleeps in next to my bed.  After getting past my sleeping brother, and stepping through the maze of suitcases, she made it to the only other room in the house: the kitchen. I dozed off and on for the next hour, at times being aware of the noises of my mother bathing and then preparing breakfast.

By 6:30 the rooster next door was crowing continuously and the sun shone brightly through our window.  It was time for Eva and I to crawl out of our shared bed and make our way to breakfast; our favorite meal of the day. Our host brother jumped out of bed as soon as he saw us head for breakfast.

The morning was spent at a garden over the mountainside. Six people from our group worked with ladies from the village to build a “keyhole” garden. Though shoveling and digging became tiresome, we were encouraged by the bright smiles and songs of the ladies.  The bright blue skies and the majestic mountains provided a splendid backdrop.

At noon we headed home for lunch, which was followed by an exhilarating hike to a gorge with a river running through it.  The mountains are steep and rocky, making the way slow and difficult.  Wherever I go here I am amazed at the sheep and mountain goats, skipping on the mountains and precipices with ease. At the bottom of the gorge, our difficult path was rewarded by clear, deep pools of frigid water, which refreshed and renewed us, invigorating us for the return hike.

I now sit by an oil lamp and watch as Eva and the rest of my family play cards while we wait for supper to finish cooking.  Soon it will be time to once again snuggle up in our family bedroom, for in Lesotho we go to bed when the sun does.

– Audrey Sims

Conversations on the farm at Mohalis Hoek

October 16

In a society with no Facebook, YouTube, _MG_6919 Call of Duty or The Bachelor, it should be no surprise that good conversations will flourish. This past week was no exception to that rule as I found myself growing closer to my peers and my Savior. The whole group had gathered on a farm; hard work and good times were sure to follow, and some great conversations were bound to come our way.

My first conversation was with a young man who worked on the farm. He had a lot of questions about what it meant to attend a Christian university. Truthfully, I was a bit embarrassed to tell him I was only required to attend one class that was focused on the Bible. Later when he found that I wanted to be a missionary he expressed some frustrations with many missionaries who don’t seem to be willing to work in the really difficult and dangerous places of the world. Perhaps God was speaking to me through this young man, only time will tell.

South Africa 3Later on in the week the conversations continued to both intrigue and challenge me. Conversations from non-violence to grace to Islam to politics all bounced up and despite varying opinions, they all seemed to bring the group closer together.

Perhaps some of you who are reading this back home should challenge yourselves to a few hours, maybe even a day or two with no electricity. You might be surprised to see what you will learn about yourself and your friends. At the very least, take the time to re-evaluate who and what really matters to you. You might be surprised by what you find out.

– Francis Sims

This past week, our group left our homes in Malealea, and went to live and work on a small farm about three hours away. We took a 22 passenger bus, all 33 of us plus our luggage packed in tight, from Malealea to Mohalis Hoek. We then divided into two smaller taxis that took us _MG_6860 through the bumpy paths of the mountains while listening to “House” music bumping at full volume the entire way.

The farm, an old mission house over 100 years old, is run by a small group of workers trying to farm in a way that works better the with land they have. Of the biggest problems for farmers in Lesotho is soil erosion, and with it the loss of much of their crops. In order for this to be avoided the less disturbed the soil is the better. And for this reason, all the labor is done by hand. No machinery is used for fear of disturbing and loosening the soil too much. Their goal is to make enough yields to be sent out and to show farmers of the area the benefits of their methods.

During the week we spent our mornings helping out with a variety of projects on the farm. We helped in setting up irrigation lines, digging holes for planting, building compost piles, seeding, and creating water lines. The afternoons were _MG_6729 then free for us to do as we pleased. There were several trips made to the river after lunch for a swim and partial bathing, some hikes and soccer games with the local team, but most of all a lot of rest in whatever shade we could find. The farm was littered with groupings of large lilac trees that perfumed the grounds. Many of my afternoons were spent under them reading, drifting in and out of little naps, and waking up to an early sunset making everything golden and warm.

I have to admit that our time there was the perfect break from our stay in Malealea. I was happy to step back from our home stays for awhile. For me it was perfect timing to catch up mentally from an unexpected overwhelming first week in my home. It gave me the energy to come back and pick up where I left off as I had time to realize what I had missed.

– Hannah Miller