Here are some reflections thus far:
What has surprised you so far?
A real monk vs. Our imagination of one
The monks are people. They have personalities, senses of humor, and likes/dislikes. They are willing to make fun of themselves and each other in a light-hearted way. They have hobbies, favorite coffee shops in town, and interests outside monastic life. When it comes to church, there are some parts they like and other parts they don’t -much like with you and me. And perhaps most surprising (in a great way), is they have sarcasm. Do not be bothered by this -it is the sort that makes you smile after a long day.
|Me with Br. Josias|
Are you meeting different peoples?
We don’t have guests every week. Furthermore, some guests are on silent retreat, meaning no chance to converse.
However, when guests are in attendance -individual or group retreat- and are allowed to talk, there have been many meaningful conversations, usually in our living room:
Here is a glimpse of people I have met:
Students and faculty at the local Seminary, usually here for a weekend ‘break’. Several have been repeat visitors. Collectively, there is a wide range of callings, life situations, and past experiences, allowing for enriching conversation. (side note: this is the only Anglican Seminary in Southern Africa; people travel from all over to attend).
A married couple biking/backpacking their way across Africa who needed a place to regroup after being robbed. They were very vulnerable about their trip experiences and how they were processing it. They also opened up about spirituality and life philosophies at large. I was privileged to have such close conversation with them.
A professor at Rhodes University, in his mid-30s, who received a Masters degree at SMU before returning to South Africa for a PhD. He was very clear-headed about life goals, education in the US vs. SA, and finding joy in the mundane. He offered highly stimulating questions for self-discovery.
Each of these people have been like new friends on the journey, bringing new insight with each conversation. It has already been a highlight of my experience in South Africa.
How do you keep sight of your initial vision/calling in the midst of the daily routine?
In the abstract sense, I don’t.
I’ve been very ‘zoomed in’ at school. I’ve had little awareness of upcoming events, what I did last weekend, etc. This is partly because so much is new to me - new students, new language, new philosophies on education, new mandates from a new department of education, etc. There is a lot to process, and if you try to absorb it all you may forget the bigger picture; you might also develop ‘deer in the headlights’ syndrome and forget to be an active member.
For mission work:
The initial vision/calling to serve the world, engage in the Anglican Communion, and be an active relational follower of Jesus Christ is very much present. We are, as said before, simply more ‘zoomed in’ to how this mission is carried out. Rather than ‘just’ talk about the gospel, our day might entail helping a child who became sick, ensure students can brush their teeth, or address a temper problem that would otherwise be ignored. Belief in God comes over the long-term.
In fact, I feel if you told the monks that nobody would believe in God after experiencing this, the brothers would still have done all this to help the community. Jesus who said “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) also said “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” and “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35 & 40).
I am not an essential piece of the puzzle; I am helping the pieces come closer together, and trusting that the next person/people will help it progress further. This is not ‘finished’ in just one year- this is a ministry set up for the long haul. I am privileged to be a part of the experience.
Seeing the world from the other side of the globe, what would you say to the American Episcopal church (and/or the world)?
That the church is active. …no, seriously.
The churches here are the backbone of their community. It is at church that people find strength to persevere. South Africa is hindered by intense bureaucracy, racism, and unfathomably bad education, yet despite all this, people thrive. You will see a church give food to people truly lacking it, re-awaken a faith smothered by depression, provide education when there truly was none available, and be that light in a faded world. In my experience, the people are invested, connected by faith, and are illuminating the world.
This is not just Anglican, by the way. Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran,….The World Church is alive and vibrant.
|Cathedral Building, Downtown|
|St. Augustine's Building, in the Township|
Thanks for the great questions, and have a blessed day!!!