It is where I first felt unearned love and it was the last place on earth I would have imagined to receive this wonderful gift. I’m going back to that same spot in South Africa today. I traveled there on a church mission trip three years ago when I was battling breast cancer and a failing marriage. I got on that plane believing that my life could be different – that it had to be different. More importantly, I believed I could be different, too. I had hoped that I would find answers in the country of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If an entire population could be reborn after apartheid, was there hope that I could be reborn, too?
On the first week of our trip our hard work took my mind off the fact my life was in turmoil. I didn’t want to return home to face my realities. On the eve of our departure, several of us had spent the night in parishioners’ homes to gain a better understanding of our new friendship. It was the day my transformation began. Here’s the story from 2007:
The next morning at breakfast our host, Tshidi Gunguwo, said a wonderful blessing and thanked us for coming to South Africa.
Our conversations turned to our experiences particularly in planting a vegetable garden at the parish school and in building a small house in Soul City.
Tshidi wanted to express her gratitude to our group. “We thank you so much for helping us to start a sustainable garden to help feed our children, and helping one family to start their lives again by providing shelter. For these activities we are very grateful. But you know that these are not the most important things, don’t you?” she asked. We looked at each other wondering where Tshidi was going.
Tshidi said, “Again we thank you for the garden and the home, but twelve of you have travelled a long way and spent a lot of money just to be with us. That alone makes us feel important and worthy in God’s eyes. God doesn’t visit homes that don’t open their doors to visitors. Just making the journey is the most important gift you can bring. Because you have come, you have given us hope that tomorrow’s South Africa will be better than today’s. And that is the most important thing.”
I return to South Africa on this year’s mission trip a changed woman. I had hope that I could change and I have. Now it is the relationships in my life that matter most. It is the friendships that nurture us and make us feel important and worthy in God’s eyes - showing others unearned love, being a real friend, loving others and expecting nothing in return. So today I return to the place where my transformation started.
I’m looking forward to staying in contact with you through my blog while we’re in South Africa. I hope that you will feel the same unearned love in your life as I have in mine.