Friday, March 6, 2015

Oh I'm Half Way There!

Dear Bishop Ousley,

It has been six months now since I left my home, and moved to South Africa.  It has so far been an absolutely amazing, tough, tiring, but all together rewarding time.
I am mostly working as an ad hoc member of staff.  I do a lot of admin work like writing receipts,  making resources for the teachers, and lately writing school policy (this is not my favorite task, but it is a necessary one).Through my placement, I have also become an expert at negotiation and conflict resolution.
This job is not easy by any means.  First and foremost, if one of the kids in the conflict is crying, they forget or do not care to speak English.  This leads to me needing to find translators.  Once I have a translator, I then have to negotiate and understand their English with many misused gendered pronouns. Their home language, isiXhosa, does not use gendered pronouns, so the kids have a hard time grasping that concept.  This leads to rather complicated sentences, where everyone, regardless of gender, is referred to as “she”.  To say the least, it can be confusing.
I am also apparently the greatest swing pusher on the face of the planet.  Every recess I hear,"Bhuti push me,  Bhuti push." God clearly has it in His plans that I need to work on my upper body strength. I’ve had to limit swing pushing to just Tuesday and Thursday, my arms could not last if I didn't.  
Living with monks and in a Monastic Community has been an interesting experience.  Monks are actually normal people, surprising though it may be to learn.   I must say that before I did YASC training and lived at a Monastery, I thought Monks today were like monks of old.  I thought they were these unapproachable, quiet people, righteous, and above reproach.  While these can be true at given times, the monks can be found to be just as human as you and me. They have the full array of emotions,  they get into arguments, and they can also be quite loud. I am really thankful to be living with a Community.  They have been such a massive support,  having a community here while I am experiencing a whole range of new situations and challenges. It is really nice to have someone to process what I am experiencing.  It is also nice, because they challenge me and my faith all the time. They ask me so many new and different questions about God and what I believe. They have been teaching me so many new ways of getting in touch with the world, and what it means to live in Africa. “Is this normal?” is a fairly standard question for me to ask following encounters with the weird and wonderful ways things can be done here in South Africa.
The biggest thing I have learned though, is the power of love. I know this sounds really cheesy and cliched, but it is so true here.  The school literally runs on prayer and love, that is it. The amazing ministries that the school performs all happen with the prayers of the Monks and the larger community attached to the Monastery and school.   I find it incredibly powerful remembering that the school was founded on the prayer, "What can we do, Lord?"
The greatest blessing I have had from this whole experience is the people I work with and who I am able to serve in the process. The staff is absolutely amazing, and all possess an intense desire to teach their little people.  But the truly great blessing is working with these little people.  These kids have such a joy and desire for their education.
Everyday they come with a big smile on their face and an excitement to learn. Life is not easy for these little people; their lives and families are heavily affected by alcoholism, HIV and AIDs,  broken families or completely abandon,  and many have been affected by abuse in all of its heartbreaking forms.  Knowing just a small portion of what these kids go through, and seeing a smile on their faces; it is literally one of the most powerful and spiritual things I have ever felt. Seeing them flourish at a place where they know they are safe and loved is such an awe inspiring thing.
The people I have met and formed this amazing relationships with brilliantly sums up the South African philosophy that Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks about all the the time: uBuntu. uBuntu roughly means that a person is a person because of other people. Living in this foreign community, I am learning more about myself and my place in God’s creation because of the relationships within various different and exciting communities.  I pray that I am providing the same experience to the people I have met through this journey.
I would like to thank you Bishop Ousley and the Diocese of Eastern Michigan for making this amazing and fulfilling experience possible so far.  I would like to ask you and the Diocese to  pray for this amazing institution that it may continue its work for these kids, and of thanksgiving for the beacon of hope it provides to the local community. I  hope you and the Diocese are doing well, and I cannot wait to share more of my experiences with you and the diocese once I return.

God's Speed in all your endeavours,

Ryan Zavacky