Communication is the process of creating understanding where two or more people are involved. What does is take for that to be effective? Talking and listening. Seems simple, right? We all know it’s not. So many things get in the way of the understanding space…personality, culture, family, tension, our world view, body language, tone, and the list could go on.
I’ll never forget a trip we took to Thailand in 2016 to visit family. It was the first time the cousins had been together in quite some time, so I was determined to take photos of anything and everything we did. Our first week was spent in Koh Chang. One day we found ourselves at a beautiful watering hole that, of course, had to be documented. I found a sweet family there with their twin daughters and asked, “Will you take a family photo?” They said yes, so I got my camera out and started preparing the settings. Once it was all set, I looked up to see this scene in front of me…
Someone once told me that the meeting place of communication is humor and humility. Obviously I wanted them to take a photo of my family, but I decided to lean into the humor at that moment and just go with it. They might have left that waterfall thinking I was so weird that I would want a photo of them with all my family, but then I wouldn’t have a fun story to tell.
But how about those times when the meeting place needs a little (or a lot of) humility? If we want to be people who are committed to creating understanding, then it’s going to take work, time, and a whole lot of humility. I find this hardest when what I’m trying to communicate is not what the other person is hearing or understanding. It can be easy to put the blame on them, because you can’t help what they hear. Right? Wrong. You can. Our intentions are not always understood because of all the things that crowd the understanding space. The only way we can move toward understanding is if we humbly dig in and commit to the process.
It was 20 years ago this month that Jeremy and I first stepped foot in South Africa. While America was celebrating its independence, we were flying over an ocean to a land that would, unknowingly, capture our hearts forever. I’ll never forget that trip in the Summer (or Winter if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) of 2000. South Africa was a much different place then. Death was everywhere due to HIV/AIDS. Children were raising children. The images in front of me were so different than any I’d ever seen or experienced before. They were images that prompted us to take action, leading us on a journey that forever changed our lives.
After many travels back and forth to South Africa, in 2007, we moved our family from the East Coast to Africa. I’ll never forget watching the doors of the shipping container being closed and locked up as our belongings spent the next few weeks in transit to our new home. We were really doing this. Joshua had just turned 5, and Emma Grace was 2. They were about to learn what it was going to be like growing up in a culture they were not born into.
Those first few months in South Africa were filled with adjustment as we moved in. There were so many things to learn…quick exchange rate calculations at the grocery store, driving on the other side of the road, driving a manual, speaking English so people can understand. I remember loud and clear the day that I realized we couldn’t live temporary. We had to make South Africa our home like we were going to be living there forever. We couldn’t have this short-term mindset. We had to be in it for the long haul.
And that we did. We raised our kids there. We built amazing friendships there. We created memories. We had life experiences, both joyous and heartbreaking. We lived life and truly made it our home.
It was one year ago this month that we decided it was time to move back to the states. I believe it was the right decision, but it’s still so hard, because a piece of home is still in South Africa. It’s why I have yet to unsubscribe to my South African grocery store weekly deal emails, why I can’t bring myself to get rid of my favorite plant pots over there, why I cherish weekly calls with my friends in South Africa. I miss the people most of all (although a cold Appletizer on these hot Texas days are high on the list, too 😊). We spent years building a culture and an identity. Man, I miss those daily interactions.
Living in South Africa I learned that I will never think like an African, but moving back to the states, I feel like my thinking doesn’t fit in with my American identity either. I feel hyper-sensitive to things I see and hear. Processing through it feels exhausting at times. Sometimes I think this journey that we set out on so many years ago wrecked us, both in very good and very challenging ways. But I press on to make Texas my home just like I made South Africa my home those many years ago. I just wonder why it feels so much harder than it did 13 years ago.
The last several weeks I’ve had lots of conversation with our team in South Africa about what it looks like to do what we can, in this moment, with what we have. Because of COVID-19, South Africa has been in lockdown to stop the spread of a virus that could have catastrophic consequences in a land where many people already suffer from respiratory illness and compromised immune systems. Compliance with the government has meant that we’ve had to close all of our programs, unsure of when we will be able to open them again.
Non-profits are usually classified as organizations. Organizations are developed by people with systems and ways of doing things in an organized way. If we have to be an org, then I would much rather be an organism, something that adapts to its current environment in order to survive and reproduce. We’ve had to adjust the doing but the being of who we are is still there. Because we embrace growth and change and serving others in a way that’s relevant, it’s been easy to adapt. Instead of running a feeding program for hundreds of kids, we’ve been able to deliver food parcels to feed the whole family. Doing what we can, in this moment, with what we have has meant doing even more than we thought possible. It has challenged me to ask myself this question in all areas of my life and to seize the opportunity that is right before me.
How about you? What does it look like to be who you are, doing what you can, in this moment, with what you have?
Today is #GivingTuesdayNow, a day dedicated to creating a wave of generosity to provide relief for frontline workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve watched our teams in Kenya and South Africa continue to reach out to the most vulnerable in their local communities by serving and handing out food. It has made me so proud! Many of these teams have lost their operating budget for the year, but they continue to serve and give. It’s amazing. Today is dedicated to them.
At Ten Thousand Homes, we are participating in #GivingTuesdayNow by raising funds for these frontline workers to be able to operate and continue to do what they do. We invite you to be a part! Jeremy articulated the need so well here. You can donate here.
I love inspiration. It motivates. It energizes. It makes you feel good about life. Admittedly, in this season of quarantine, lockdown, self-isolation, and shelter in place, it can be hard to find inspiration. Today I found it, though, in three people living in White River, South Africa.
Every Thursday morning I have a call with the leadership team at uVillage in White River. The purpose of the call is to connect, empower, and equip. In our sudden departure of South Africa a year ago due to visa denials, it prompted us on a journey to empower a new generation of leaders to lead on the ground. It was uncharted waters for all of us, but one thing we knew for sure was that this arrangement couldn’t look like us giving the directions and the team carrying them out. That wasn’t empowerment. We had to look for ways to let them know we were in this together but let them make the decisions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked the question, “Well, what do you think?” right after stopping myself as I was about to launch into a directive on how to handle the situation.
No one has done everything perfectly, but the process has been beautiful, because we’ve all had tremendous grace for each other, and the team in South Africa have gone above and beyond to honor our investment there. I could go on and on about the team and the process of empowerment (and I plan on writing more in the future), but today I’ll get to why I felt inspired by them.
South Africa has strict lockdown measures in place right now due to coronavirus. Our team has had to shut everything down…the After School Program, all short-term volunteers have stopped for the foreseeable future, and everyone is confined to their homes. In a situation that looks hopeless, they have looked at everything and asked, “What is the best that we can do in this moment, in this situation, with what we have?” And that’s when they started getting permits and putting together food parcels to go deliver food to the kid’s families in the After School Program. Not only will the kids be fed but the whole family. It inspired me that hope is in any situation. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder for it.
Swazi, Lennon, and Rebekah, thanks for inspiring me today.