7/19/15

I'm "Home"

As I turned in my notice at work last August, I knew that the year before me would be life changing.  I though about how I would grow in maturity and in relationship venturing far from comfort and familiarity.  I hoped that I would gain a deeper understanding of my faith and be able to contribute to something much bigger than myself.  And I genuinely desired and believed that when I completed my time in South Africa that my view of the world around me would be forever changed.

I sit here now smiling and affirmed to know, I was right.
(By God’s grace...)

From tentatively sharing my heart to illicit support for my plans, nervously awaiting my initial visa approval, and pruning down all my earthly belonging to what I could store in my mother’s coat closet; even the initial trip preparation was a growing process.

Setting foot on South African soil, calling it home and learning to navigate what I found in front of me was nothing short of a dream come true (with a little nightmare thrown in there as well).  It was beautiful, and challenging, and inspiring, and scary, and many other things.

With the year coming to a close, I can confidently say that I accomplished all I thought I would and much more that God Himself had planned for me.

Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat.

Will I do it again?  Yes.

Love.

2/9/15

It Is What It Is

Do you realize that people who work for the church are just like you?
Are you sure your thoughts and words reflect this?

One thing that I’ve learned, as a by-product of being called a missionary for a few months, is that people have all kinds of opinions about what such a calling should look like. Oddly enough, I don’t think their job description for such a position is one that they themselves would be willing to take on or one that would be a good way for most to live.

Attend every church service offered.
Don’t be involved in romantic relationships.
Post more about work on social media than other areas of life.
Don’t take days off.
Only invest in people in assumed social circles.
Make the good things you do public.
Etc.

I can’t fulfill the above requirements, but I’m still here.

I will join in with what I see God doing in front of me.
I will go where the spirit leads me and attempt to build genuine relationships.
I will try to be a good example of Christ.
I will love responsibly and seek counsel.
I will share happenings using discretion.
I will rest.
I will assist wherever and whenever I can within the church.

This past month has been hard.  After the rush of holiday activity I was able to catch my breath for about a week and then I jumped right back into the swing of things; weddings, baptisms, choir rehearsals, parish visits, shopping trips for the children’s home, fetching and delivering supplies to the monastery, planning, entertaining visiting clergy, etc. Along with church work, I found myself starting a media internship and looking for housing for the coming months (with a modest budget, this proved very difficult, but by God’s grace, encouragement from friends and practical help from my boyfriend, I’m settled now).

All in all I’m still very happy, but I’m beginning to realize that this is what being a missionary is… and guess what? It feels an awful lot like “normal” work and life did back home. Yes, my phone is now filled with priest’s numbers, my schedule is anything but fixed, and many more people seem to have opinions on how my job should be done, but there are still normal struggles and joys just the same. My focus is still God, I still try and fail and try again, and I’m still me.

I’m excited for the next 6 months and look forward to sharing them with you as time (and load shedding/internet access) allows.

1/13/15

Missionaries Don't Take Holiday

…at least not at the same time as everyone else in the world.  Over the past 30 days I've come to realize that people who work for the church have their schedules packed around the festive season.  It's a good thing because that means that others in the community are taking their time off to be active in the church, but WOW does it make for a busy 30 days.  Between normal services, outreach events, food collections and donations and parish visits I've had my hands full. I love it…  Here are a few pictures to share.

Food parcels packed for delivery in Madidi
Boys at Saint Nicholas building and learning what a gingerbread house is for the first time
(food parcels being packaged in the background by church members)
I am a children's taxi to church in Eldorado Park
1/2 of the crew that attends our biweekly children's outreach at Saint Nicholas
A boy on an adventure...

All in all, I am having an amazing time serving here and I pray you feel the same about the work God has given you to do too.

Christ is Born; Glorify Him!

12/18/14

Merry Christmas!

Hello once again to all of you faithful and loving people who have taken an interest in the work God is having me do in South Africa.  I want to take a moment to genuinely thank you for keeping me in your prayers during this holiday season.  It means the world to me knowing that I'm not alone here; that I have the support of people back home who care a great deal about sharing the love of Christ even with people they've never met 16,000km away.

Normal services have continued (and picked up a bit due to the nativity season), Christmas events are in full swing, and work and life continue to be full for me.  I am very grateful to be here serving and am genuinely excited for how God is using me and what is to come.

Raphaela D'Amico and Father Athanasius at an early morning liturgy at Saint Nicholas

Updates:

Saint Sava's Children's Home -

As I've mentioned before, I am highly involved with the renovation and founding of a children's home just outside of Attridgeville.  Currently there is a lot going on at the site.  The building and construction that I mentioned previously is underway; with the roof of 1/3 of the old home redone and the outside door replaced.  Since builders go on Summer holiday here around mid-December, we have put off ordering more building materials until mid January, but we plan to begin working on security fencing at that time.

Also, since the school term just finished, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two high school aged brothers staying in the home and discuss their grades, future plans, concerns and such, in a bit of a mentorship capacity.  These two boys are orphans here (on expired asylum papers… soon to be remedied) staying at the home.  We went over their grades (one passed his grade and the other will have to repeat it), talked about possible tutoring for next term, transport to school and representation at parent night kind of functions.  After I had a chance to discuss things with them, I came home and began the process of sorting all their legal paperwork and seeing what assistance we as the church can be in helping them feel secure and stable (as the home itself is currently in a transition time).  Please keep them and the other children staying in the home in your prayers as we assist them through this time in their life the best we can.

Tomorrow I'm heading back out to the home (and monastery nearby) for a Christmas party for all who stay there.  We will be bringing a tree, holiday treats, and gifts to be shared.

Brixton Children's Outreach -

So far we have had two very successful children's outreach events for the kids staying in the neighborhood directly around Saint Nicholas.  The second event actually fell on the same day as a larger community event in the park around the corner, but we still had an overwhelming turnout and a lot of fun together.

I've noticed that the kids know me now.  When they see me they run to give hugs and tell me about things they have been up to.  They have also been coming to services more and getting involved in other church activities such as the Christmas Pageant that was held last weekend.  Slowly but surely I'm seeing others in the congregation take interest in what is going on too; hopefully to join in serving or contributing as this program grows.

There is also a lot of working going on behind the scenes to establish the foundation for some long term ministry here, and I will be excited to share that with you as the right time presents itself.  But let me say again, thank you for all of your love and prayers as I navigate this journey.  The highs and lows have been incredible so far and my life is already forever changed.  Thank you for being a part of it.

11/28/14

Projects Underway

Sorry it's been so long since my last post; things have been very busy! There are currently two projects that have taken my time/attention (and heart) that I'd like to share a bit about with you.  Both projects have a lot to do with children; one being a children's home and the other being a bi-weekly children's outreach event.

The children's home project is probably the most complicated and expansive endeavor I've put my name to since my arrival, and the situation is this:  Many years ago there was a children's home established under the Orthodox church's care (whether officially or unofficially, I'm not sure).  It is on a piece of land situated just outside one of the most developed and expansive squatter camps I've seen here, called Atteridgeville.  I would like to show you pictures of the living conditions, but I can't bring myself to pull out my iPhone to document these people's homes; it just seems wrong to expose them. I will say this though, I'm fairly confident that I could build a home comparable to the ones there with nothing more than my two hands, a hammer and nails.

Although I hear that the children's home itself was very nice at one point, over the years it has gone into a states of disarray.  There is no proper locking door, most windows are broken, the roof leaks, etc.  It is unsafe to live in, but it is currently home to 4 teenage boys, one girl in her early 20's and the caretaker and her child.

The big plan is to fix up the current residence into a hostel type housing for older children, build a new housing area that would be able to foster 16 youths, possibly build a volunteer medical clinic onsite (that could be used by the residents in the surrounding areas), build a church, cultivate a garden and soccer field on the land, and get all of the properly running and registered with the South African government.

…but as it is, I'm taking baby steps to get things going.  I have visited the site multiple times; getting to know the current caretaker and assessing the land with priests and builders.  I've created intake documents for the current residents (to hopefully go over with a social workers soon), have created and begun the filing process to make the children's home a registered non-profit organization, and have ordered the first of the building materials to fix up the current building (work to start on December 1st).

My desk and the quoted order for building supplies during an afternoon of work

The other project that I'm really excited about is a children's outreach that has been spearheaded within the Brixton community.  My home parish is located in an impoverished suburb of Johannesburg, close to the CBD; however, most of the people who attend our services do not live in the area. Because of this, I decided to organize an afternoon meal twice a month to feed and bond with the kids living directly around Saint Nicholas.  I really want them to see the church as a place that is for them… and not just on Sundays.  This past weekend was our first event; including donated pizza, cold drinks, cookies, get-to-know-you games, and playing in the street out front.  I wish you all could have been there; it was such a joyful afternoon.  When I arrived 45 minutes early I was greeted by 2 boys posted outside the front gate.  They quickly scurried away to gather the others, as I hurried to get things in place.  They came back with 15 other kids, and they were shortly followed by 5 more and 3 parents.  The food was handed out as the children (without prompting) went to wash up.  Once everyone was seated I asked who wanted to pray… they all raised their hands and then proceeded to recite the Lord's Prayer from memory (their ages ranged from 4-13).



After eating we headed outside to play, prompting neighbors to curiously look on.  There was laughing and competition and lots of fun.  By the time the event was coming to a close, there were about 5 adults outside watching the games and talking amongst themselves; it was really lovely.  The next event is scheduled for next weekend, and I've managed to sort hotdog and crisp donations and a volunteer soccer coach to help out.  I can't wait!

If you're interested in contributing to this outreach, donations can be made here: https://kayciesimmons.webconnex.com/southafrica

God bless you all in your work and please keep these and other missionary efforts in your prayers.

11/5/14

Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit

This past week I was lucky enough to get the chance to spend some time with Father Elias at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit; located on a farm about 20 km outside of Pretoria, on land that was formerly used for torture during South African Apartheid.  (See this video for a bit more information about Vlakplaas, the farm's location.)

Father Elias currently oversees the monastery and is highly involved in the development and planning of what is to be called "New Sion."


New Sion is the area that is to be built up around the current chapel and Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  Once completed, it will include a visitor's center with a museum to explain the land's history, chapels from many different nations that comprise the South African Orthodox landscape, theological schools and a missions center.  There is still a lot of work to be done to bring this vision to life, but paperwork has been submitted, plans have been blessed and construction is set to begin within the month; I'm excited to be part of the process!

Our visit to the site last week was just a brief introduction, but it was filled with all kinds of coincidental pleasant surprises for me.  Going into the day, I knew that it would be a bit special seeing as the monastery is celebrated on Pentecost and that is the day on which I was chrismated almost 2 years ago.  But as I was escorted around I also stumbled across a room that was completely dedicated to my patron saint Xenia within an old storage area.





I have plans to work with Father Elias on some evangelistic endeavors as well as informational and promotional materials for the developing site.  I hope to share more as things progress, but as for now I have plans to visit the site (and surrounding areas - including an adjacent children's home) once a week as time allows.

10/22/14

Working on the Weekend

This past weekend parishioners from a couple mission churches in the area made their way to Saint Nicholas for a joyous baptismal celebration on Saturday.  The Bishop, His Eminence Damaskinos, and 3 helping priests were there to assist in the ceremony to receive 15 people into the church.

Catechumens praying outside the church 
His Eminence Damaskinos and the other priests praying over the water
Two newly illumined children admiring each other's crosses
The whole group processing around the baptismal fount

There is still a great need for God-parents for these people (and others soon to be baptized), as there isn't a large Orthodox base among the mission parishes here.  I was happy to be able to sing for the service, but turned down the opportunity to be a God-parent as I had just been introduced to the entire bunch and wasn't familiar with any of the people yet.

The following day I made my way to Mamelodi to participate in a "reader service" (a liturgy that can be done without a priest).  The service was done mostly in a language foreign to me with bits of English and Greek mixed in, but I was able to follow along well enough and really enjoyed the experience.  The group meets in family homes, so it makes sense that the church mainly consists of different generations of the same family.  After service this provides for a very family-like atmosphere; wonderful Sunday lunch and children playing outside included.

At one point during the service I asked to use the restroom and was escorted to a small outside room with accommodations less that those I've seen at most American campsites… I felt bad for a moment and then I remembered that if they've never known otherwise that they're probably perfectly happy with this.

After the service concluded the women in the room broke out into this lovely song:

video

The kids from the neighborhood playing around after service
All this to say, I had a very eventful weekend and spent a lot of time in prayer for these people and their families.