Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reading the City

Sunday, I walked down Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg with a backpack full of lemons. An old Grecian woman who has been living in the city for 52 years passed them through the fence as we were admiring her citrus tree. We didn't see her watering the plants in another part of the yard but when she came over, she was beaming and offered us a gift. When I asked if it was really okay to have a piece of fruit, she replied, "not one...plenty!" There we had an instant morning snack as we continued our sunny Sunday morning stroll to the art store and market.

After spending what seemed like the entire week getting more acquainted with Pretoria a.k.a Tshwane, it felt like a good idea to get out of the city for a few days and head to...a bigger one?! Somehow, getting out of town for even just two days really helped put this place in context. Saturday there was a huge carnival in Joburg where we, the resident clowns, were to go represent the FEAST OF THE CLOWNS to the entire province. "Carnival" is an interesting term to give to the event. To be honest, it felt more like a colorful, musical, crowded line trying to become a parade. Nobody had informed the city though that thousands of people would be traveling from all over to perform and compete for points that their city would be awarded. I think there were a total of 20 people who came out to see the "parade." Anyway, it was a long day dressed up as clowns, walking down the scalding streets of Sandton (a wealthy suburb of J'burg). Once the parade came to an finish...in the middle of a street halfway to our ending location...Siri and I took off in our costumes and facepaint to find the hostel that we were going to stay at that night. We found the Kung Fu Kitchen instead. Sweet and sour chicken is the same the world over...thank the Lord. Then, wondering how we were going to get across this city to our hostel we asked the waitress and she told us the delivery driver could take us there. Apparently he doesn't just deliver pizzas. 20 Rand and a short walk later we were at the doorstep of an old mansion, The Backpacker Ritz. Gardens, pool, paved paths through the trees, an eagle owl that sometimes attacks, and a beautiful sunset over the city welcomed us. It felt like a real vacation. It also felt like we were so far outside the city. But I suppose in a city that is 120km x 120kms large, there are bound to be places that feel less crowded. It was the quietest night of sleep since I've been here. Sunday, Siri and I walked to another part of town after a delicous breakfast at a real bakery We then took a minitaxi into downtown. The dreaded DOWNTOWN J'burg. Centers of cities have received quite a stigmatized reputation here in South Africa of danger, violence, crime, muggings, and poverty. When the man at the hostel found out that we lived in central Pretoria, he was astounded that two white girls would stay there...by choice. His expressions spoke the truth of his thoughts. Skeptical; confused and afraid of this part of town that I doubt he's even ever been in. This reaction after the conversations that had been had during our volunteer orientation was the period at the end of a sentence. Joburg was great...we explored Newtown which is the up and coming area near downtown. There was a free museum and a caf‚ where they were starting to play some great jazz music. We tried Amasanja....the traditional worm dish here. It wasn't bad...or maybe we were starving.

Some thoughts on this town and the people I walk by everyday. Tshwane Central felt like returning home when I came back Sunday evening. It was nice to walk down the familiar streets and see some smiling faces that are quickly becoming part of my daily life. Annah the girl at the fruit stand on the corner. Pretty, who runs the laundry shop. The old white man with just 4 massive dreadlocks and the big plaid bag. Rasta, who spends his days on the corner of Paul Kruger street and Minnar and shouts hello every morning. For being a city of 3 million there is a nice little neighborhood here surrounding Burgers Park. It feels safe (which I do acknowledge is not completely true) but it feels like it and that spirit of fear that is so common here has not gained the power to scare everyone away from this beautiful community.

Last week all the international volunteers attended an orientation for TLF. It was led by Steffan (the starter and former CEO of TLF) and his wife Wilna. They are an incredibly inspiring couple who have completely dedicated their lives to serving and loving the community around them. We had some great discussions about the history of Pretoria, building "inclusive communities," prejudices and fear, how to 'read the city.' We got some really great information about how during apartheid, cities were intentionally built to keep certain people out even to the extent that a visitor to Pretoria could travel from the airport to Central without ever having to see poverty. All of the townships or "locations" were established away from the freeways and behind a wall of industrial zones. Even still, the informal settlements are out of view of people traveling in from outside the city.

Slowly, very slowly, I'm adjusting to a new way of ministry here. I'm starting to internalize that productivity and moving forward are not always the most important goals. We are so influenced at a very deep level by the Protestant work ethic. That how well I work, or how much is built is a reflection of my worth; that God will love me more if I just work harder. There is a real understanding here that that is not true. : ) People are very relaxed. This is not an advantage in every situation but it is a new way of living for me. I tend to be relaxed and relational for the most part, but here, they take it to a new level. Already, it's been challenging and I'm sure it will continue to be but God is really teaching me through this and through those relationships.

" The fundamental building blocks of the kingdom are relationships. Not programs, systems, or productivity. But inconvenient, time-consuming, intrusive relationships. The kingdom is built on personal involvements that disrupt schedules and drain energy." -Kingdom Efficiency

We heard the story of how Lerato House came to be. There was an old abandoned hotel building in downtown Pretoria that the police knew was being used for prostitution so eventually they raided the building and brought the girls, as young as 11 years old to TLF and the first home was opened. A group of 13 girls had been removed from the lives of pain and abuse and were going to have the opportunity to heal and move forward. This hotel continued to be used and was still abandoned for many years. Just recently, TLF had plans to purchase some more property to increase capacity for Lerato House as well as to create some other affordable housing projects. The property they intended to buy fell through but they heard about a property auction and went to it. That rundown hotel building was on auction for just the amount that TLF had available as a down payment. Now, that same building the original girls came out of is being restored and rebuilt to house more girls in order that they will be empowered and encouraged and SAFE! Talk about redemption! God is really at work in this city and is using this organization like crazy around here.

Okay, it's late. I should sleep and dream of the blooming Jacarandas.
Love to you all.


  1. I love that quote about the fundamentals of the Kingdom - I'm going to share it with our small group this week. Thanks! We send our love!

  2. i love reading your blog....you amaze and inspire me to be a better Chritian. I love you sis!